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Analysis: Here's how CNN makes election projections

October 17, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

If you've ever watched CNN on election night, you'll know that Wolf Blitzer announces that the network has projected this or that candidate will win a particular race.

(CNN)If you've ever watched CNN on election night, you'll know that Wolf Blitzer announces that the network has projected this or that candidate will win a particular race.

CNN's Brian Stelter recently interviewed Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist on "Reliable Sources" about how CNN projects races and how the process will be different this year.

Separately, I also spoke with Jennifer Agiesta, CNN's director of polling and election analytics, who runs the network's decision desk.

Some states don't begin processing mailing ballots until Election Day, so it could take a little longer.

But I really believe that if we don't have a winner on election night, there's a very good possibility that we're going to know the answer on Wednesday or Thursday because the vast majority of votes will have been counted by then.

And then all across the country, the national election poll and the Associated Press, for that matter, send out reporters to learn about and report the votes.

And that happens throughout the night, and then it will continue happening and always does after election night is over because votes continue to come in.

When there's enough votes in a particular state to give the decision team the confidence that that person is going to win, then they can announce a projection.

It is possible and we tend to make projections early on election night if the race is not close particularly in those battleground states, so it is possible.

Everyone remembers 2000 where Florida was the deciding state and then it was too close to call on election night, and we didn't know, and it took another 31 days.

But the very next election was 2004, and in that case, Ohio was the state that was going to be decisive and we did not have enough votes in to project a winner on election night, so we waited.

So, it is not unusual for elections to not be decided on Election Day, especially this year because mail-in ballots take longer to count.

But I think the vast majority of the votes in the country will be counted by late in the election week, so I believe that we will likely know a winner.

FEIST: If we have not projected enough states for a candidate to get to 270 electoral votes, and a candidate comes out and declares victory, we will make it clear that the facts do not back up that claim of victory.

If you've watched CNN's election night, John King at the magic wall spends an awful lot of election night explaining why we haven't projected a winner in a particular state.

And we will make it clear to our viewers and our readers, that there's simply not enough information to make a projection, and that the candidate, if a candidate goes out and declares a winner -- declares victory ahead of time, that they are doing it before the votes have been counted, before -- that is based in fact.

And we just have to give the -- those -- local election authorities the time to count the vote.

In many states, they may have time to do it on election night.

In other states, because of state election laws where they can't begin counting absentee ballots until Election Day, just give them time.

Most important is what's been counted: Where are the votes coming from geographically within the state, what types of votes are included in the count, and how much of the total vote does the count represent right now?

If everything that's been counted is absentee and early votes, or all Election Day votes, there won't be a clear picture of how all the votes will look when both types of vote are included.

First, the increase in vote by mail, and the number of ballots which may have been mailed in time for Election Day, but are received by election officials afterward.

There are fewer people voting on Election Day in most places and some states are consolidating precincts, so comparisons of the number of people voting in a particular precinct now to the past are less valuable, and it may be harder to get a good read on Election Day turnout before a county or town is fully reported.

We're looking at how much we know about all the different types of vote that are out there, where in the state those votes have come from, how they compare to what we know about votes there in the past, and what we know about what's left to count.

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